I'd be very grateful for any comment on the first chapter below of my crime thriller.
As an aside, I'd be happy to critique the first 5k/three chapters of your crime/thriller book (just one mss, that is) if you'd do the same for me.
I'm a newish member - joined a couple of weeks ago.
Looking forward to knowing you all.
Gunfire crackles from automatic weapons, a sporadic drrr-drrr-drrr, the muzzles flaring sparks into the darkness. The bullets spitting out in a clatter that echoes around the valley. Death so close you can touch it. It makes me feel alive and giddy. My skin tingles.
Night had fallen over Caracas, bathing its concrete wares in blackness. A balmy, lilting wind drifts south from the coast. It glides over the El Avila mountains that hem in Venezuela’s capital to the north, then blows over a mishmash of a city. Villas with pools in gated communities, skyscrapers downtown, and all encircled by barrios — slums — that crawl around the sloping hills to the south and east.
And it was in one of these beat-up ghettos where the shooting show was in full swing. Sunday evening, barely 7pm. But it was the same most weekend nights. Rival drug gangs tanked up on coke or booze. Waging war. Settling scores, eating into new turf. Or maybe just bored and flexing muscle.
I sat sipping Santa Teresa rum, a candle on the table flickering behind a lamp the shape of a goblet. I pointed out to the gun fight. “The boys kicked off early tonight,” I said.
Jonny, a stringer with the LA Observer, puffed on a Cuban cigar as thick as a banana. It made his narrow face look even smaller. “It’s a joke. More are killed here in a year than in that war in Iraq.” He called it eye-er-ak.
“I told my desk that once, when I had a job,” I said, “and you know what my editor says? ‘Find something interesting to write about.’ So I pitched a story about the government rationing toilet paper and he had a hard on.”
Jonny laughed, spluttering out smoke.
Ryan, of the Financial Record in London, threw his hands up. “Wait a minute, Alex, at least your bloody desk in New York had heard of Venezuela. I phoned an editor with a pitch once and he said Vene-where?”
I chuckled. Jonny clapped.
Hector, an investigative journalist with the local current affairs magazine La Semana, grinned. “I’ve put my life on the line snooping into this fuck of a dictatorship and you clowns moan about boozing your time away.”
We all laughed, lounging in our usual spot in bar Mirador, housed on the rooftop terrace in Hotel Castellena, perched up on the 19th floor. High enough to hear the mini war from a distance, but far enough from the danger. Only the odd bullet strayed here at the end of its path, dropping like a coin with a ping. Grabbed by a gleeful expat looking for a souveneir.
It was busy enough in Mirador in this hangout for rich Venezuelans and westerners. The crowd was the usual. Diplomats, expat businessmen, a few save the world types, even the odd spook and mercenary. Our Gringo numbers these days dwindling, though. The only pool growing, or stable, was the journalists. The currency of bad news in good supply. People dying, shot up or starved. Protests. A socialista government slipping out of popularity but digging in its heels. A whiff of a coup. Misery to most, but to a reporter it was gold.
Two guys strutted across the terrace. Early 30s, buttoned-up Polo shirts, all swagger. Throwing their eyes around to see were any girls checking them out.
They wandered past the bar the shape of a horseshoe. Next to it, a DJ, woolly hat and aviator shades, playing house music discs. Two Gringa girls danced badly, all swinging arms and legs. No rhythm.
The two dudes nodded to an empty table to my left and pulled up chairs. Chatted in a Texan twang. One of the duo, with puffed-up arms, clicked his fingers at a passing waiter. “Hey, chico.”
I spun around, got into his face. “Why don’t you show a bit of respect,” I said. “The staff have it hard enough in life without you shitting on them.”
Texan Twang stared me down. After a beat, he said, “Really?” Dripping with sarcasm. Throwing eyes to his buddy — his adam’s apple bobbing.
I kept my gaze on muscle man, my hands tightening into fists. After a long pause, I replied. “Really.”
He flexed his biceps but I smelled fear. His amigo cleared his throat and ordered two neat whiskeys. The waiter, in his uniform of black t-shirt and slacks, nodded and backpedalled, giving me a look as if to say, ‘don’t bother with this guy’.
Fingers gripped my shoulders and I turned around. Jonny, easing me back around to my table. “Take it easy, big guy,” he said. “We don’t want trouble on our own doorstep.”
I shrugged. “Just blowing off steam.” Ryan shook his head. Jonny sucked on his cigar. Hector chuckled, his belly jiggling.
I glugged another mouthful of rum. In the background, Texan Twang sniggered, then babbled on about derivatives and capital gains. Speaking loud to his buddy about how he was going to tap into a failed country of “spicks” and make his millions.
I put them down for a couple of wannabe businessmen. Eyeing up any opportunities in a dying economy. I tried to push the guy’s big talk aside but it grated.
The chat at my table turned to another embassy quitting town. This time, the Canadians.
“Awful shame,” I said. “They throw the best party in town. Barbeque and free booze.”
Every Wednesday. It was the highlight of our midweek. It gave me a lift. Helped along by the coke. I dipped in and out of the toilets for a snort with the first secretary, an old guy, bald as a coot. He was always flush.
Jonny flicked ash from his Monte Cristo over the balcony. “Damn shame.”
Ryan pushed his round glasses up his nose. “Exactly. What do we do on a Wednesday night now?”
I shrugged. “There’s always El Mani club in Sabana Grande. But it’s getting rough down there, gangbangers turning it into the wild west.”
Out of the corner of my eye I watched Texan Twang pull a fistful of notes out of his wallet and flap the bills. “You could make a fire with this currency,” he said, laughing. “Bolivares fuertes, the paper’s worth more.”
I swivelled around. “You still being an asshole?”
“You ain’t seen nothin’ — watch this.” He grabbed a lighter on his table and lit the wad. Flames licked the air, the paper curling. A waiter stopped in his tracks, his jaw hung slack. Another gasped. Texan Twang then threw the notes in the air and they drifted over the balcony, embers floating like fireflies. He sat laughing, his big stupid mouth wide open.
“You muthafucker, dissing these people,” I shouted.
I jumped out of my chair, dug my fingers into his throat and hauled him to his feet. He sucked in air, his eyes bulging. I shoved him back and threw a volley of punches into his face, short and sharp, the kind that both shocked and hurt with each pound of fist. One blow hit his nose, bone connecting with cartilage in a spray of red.
He staggered, then stumbled and collapsed onto a table, glasses smashing. A girl screamed and ran. Another, doing her lipstick, dropped her compact mirror in a tumbler.
I dropped my hands to my side, my nostrils flaring. I watched Texan Twang crawling away. His buddy ran over, tugging at his arm to get him up.
The manager, Diego, marched onto the terrace with a doorman. Diego massaged his goatee, trimmed so tight you strike a match off the stubble, and shook his head at the sight of me being at the centre of the commotion.
I shrugged. “What?” I said, now feeling dumb.
The waiter filled in the pair about Texan Twang sparking up money into a bonfire. Diego barked orders at the doorman who scooped the KO’d clown off the floor. He and the dude’s buddy hauled him out, Texan Twang’s arms slung over each of their shoulders, his feet dragging.
I sat down, wiped my bloody hands on a napkin and folded it neatly on my lap. Ryan, Jonny and Hector, all now back to smoking and drinking like nothing happened.
“Guy had it coming,” Hector said.
Diego stormed over, wagging a stubby finger. “You did right at that piece of shit, Alex, but you gotta leave. The owner, you might be his best customer, but he don’t like trouble.”
I stood, shrugging. “Got it.” I fished out enough notes from my wallet to cover my tab, shoved the cash under an ashtray. “We’ll do it all again next time, boys.”
Ryan winked. “Make it next time as in an hour. Club Mani. Get down there. We’ll nurse a few night caps.”
“Maybe,” I said. I gave him, Jonny and Hector a thumbs up and shuffled off, eyes all around on me. I scuttled down a metal staircase to the lower terrace, my legs wobbly from the booze.
I stood at a balcony for a breather. A starry sky pulsed. A light breeze stirred, my hair ruffling.
My phone rang and I pulled it out of my pocket. I brushed off loose tobacco from the screen. I showed a +353 number – a call from Ireland.
Lorraine, my sister.
I hadn’t spoken to her in months. I slapped myself around the face to sharpen up and stabbed the answer button, ready for a ticking off for going AWOL.
“Look, Lorraine, I’m sorry, I eh,” I stuttered. “I haven’t been in touch lately but—”
“Forget about that,” she shouted. “Your brother. You know, the one you never see.”
I snorted. “For good reason.”
“He’s … he’s.” Her voice breaking up, then a spasm of coughs.
“What the hell is going on?” I said.
Lorraine cleared her throat, making raspy sounds. “Mark — he’s dead.” Groans and soft cries.
I pushed the phone tight to my ear, so hard it pinched. “What are you talking about?”
“He went to Caracas with that Venezuelan tramp Carmen and married her. And she killed him there for his money. I bleedin’ know she did.”
“Just pull it back a bit,” I said. “How did he die? And where in Caracas?” I paced in a circle.
“I … I don’t know.” Her words trailed off into sobs.
I stopped shuffling. “Lorraine, talk to me,” I said.
After a pause, she said, “You’re over there, Alex. Just get Mark home. And find the truth.”